Cheyenne, OK – Today, Congressman Frank Lucas (OK-03) joined House Committee on Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) and Dean of the U.S. House of Representatives Don Young (R-AK) in introducing The Universal Broadband Act. The Universal Broadband Act will ensure rural Americans have the opportunity to access reliable broadband services by expanding the Universal Service Fund (USF) contribution base to include broadband services, rather than the current outdated model that draws support solely from telephone services. The costs of building out service to areas without adequate broadband continues to rise, while the current base that contributes to the USF is declining. This has resulted in an increasingly growing contribution factor, overburdening those who are required to contribute.
“Access to affordable high-speed internet is essential to prosper in the 21st century economy. Thanks to the leadership of my friend and colleague Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN), Congress is expanding the investment to the Universal Service Fund to ensure all Americans have reliable access to broadband,” said Congressman Lucas.
Lucas continued, “The Universal Service Fund can trace its origins back to Depression-era efforts to provide telecommunication services to low-income households and high-cost areas across the nation. As the USF’s mission has evolved over time to include the expansion of broadband internet service to rural America, the contribution structure that supports the Fund has become more and more outdated.”
“While the cost of the programs supported by the Universal Service Fund continue to rise, the already-overburdened contribution base continues to diminish. The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a spotlight on the inequities our rural communities face due to lack of broadband. Families have struggled to keep their children connected with their teachers through online learning. Telemedicine has been essential for people across the country to receive medical attention without going into the doctor’s office, but even the best of this resource isn’t available to you if you don’t have the broadband capabilities to join a video chat. For the fortunate few who are able to work from home, productivity is often limited by a household’s broadband speed. Our work in this area is far from finished, but the Universal Broadband Act will be an important step in bridging the digital divide between rural and urban areas. This is more important now than ever.”
“Reliable broadband is a utility, every bit as necessary as electricity,” said Rep. Peterson. “From distance learning to telehealth and the transitions of working from home during a public health crisis, broadband is more important than ever. It’s unacceptable that rural communities have limited, unreliable or worse yet no broadband access. In response to these inequities I have introduced the Universal Broadband Act that secures adequate funding to support the construction of broadband infrastructure in rural and underserved areas without having to increase the national debt.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of broadband access for our communities, schools, and health care providers,” said Rep. Young. “We must work so that those in our rural areas can have access to the connectivity they need to keep their families safe and give them a semblance of normalcy. I am proud to partner with my good friend Congressman Collin Petersen on this critical effort to help close the digital divide, and will continue working to ensure that Alaska’s families can stay connected.”
The Universal Broadband Act would provide long-awaited reinvestment into the USF that prioritizes building out broadband without over-burdening the FCC from extensive new regulations. The bill would:
- Codify that broadband is within the definition of Universal Service;
- Require the FCC to set the contribution rate as needed to meet Universal Service goals and serve all Americans;
- Require consultation between USDA’s Rural Utility Service (RUS), the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), and the FCC;
- Create reporting requirements to ensure the FCC is meeting their build out goals; and
- Prioritize unserved areas, and further ensure tribal areas are served.
NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association, CEO, Shirley Bloomfield “NTCA applauds the vision of Reps. Peterson and Young, and these other leaders in Congress, in seeking to ensure that the universal service programs that are so critical to bridge digital divides sit atop a solid and more reliable foundation. Now more than ever, as we telecommute, educate our children remotely and try to stay connected with loved ones online, it has become clear that broadband communications play an essential role in our nation’s economy, and the well-being of millions of Americans. Unfortunately, even as the importance of universal broadband connectivity increases, the system that governs contributions to the Universal Service Fund (USF)—the program that enables such connectivity—has continued to erode and become less stable. By directing the expansion of the USF contribution base to include broadband access services—those very services that have become a primary focus of our country’s shared universal service mission—this bipartisan bill, which NTCA endorses wholeheartedly, charts a course for steadier long-term support of the USF program on a more equitable basis, and it will therefore help to promote achievement of all aspects of that mission.”
National Farmers Union, President, Rob Larew “Family farmers depend on the internet to access critical information about markets and environmental conditions, implement precision agriculture technology, and reach customers. But currently, more than a third of rural Americans lack access to affordable, high-speed broadband. By expanding the scope of and stabilizing the revenue stream for the Universal Service Fund, the Universal Broadband Act makes great strides toward ensuring that every rural household has access to this essential resource. NFU thanks Chairman Peterson for his ongoing leadership on this important issue that affects many of our members.”
American Farm Bureau Federation, President, Zippy Duvall “There are more than 19 million rural Americans that lack broadband access. This bill will modernize the Universal Service Fund to help our rural communities bridge the digital divide.”
Farm Credit Council, President and CEO,Todd Van Hoose “Access to broadband is critical, and rural communities trail their urban counterparts. We thank Reps. Peterson and Young for introducing the Universal Broadband Act. This legislation will help ensure the longevity of the Universal Service Fund, which is vital to the expansion of broadband networks in underserved and rural areas.”